Beware of Backlink Photo Credit Scammers

Imagine my surprise when I received an email from someone claiming I had used his photo without proper attribution! He said his name is Gavin Whitner, and after a quick check it seemed as though he was trying to pull a backlink photo credit scam on me to increase the rank of his business, Music Oomph.

By claiming he owned the rights to a photo on my website, requesting attribution, he was trying to positively affect his own web results by getting me to link to his website. But here’s the thing: Gavin Whitner doesn’t appear to own the photo.

Here’s his original email:

Hi,
I saw this page of your site (https://www.justinkbrady.com/how-to-start-a-podcast/) using my photo, which is licensed under CC 2.0

Here’s the link to my photo on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/156466858@N02/50337761737/

It’s certainly free to use. Thanks for using it. However, I do ask for a small attribution.

Could you kindly add an image credit anywhere on your page? Something simple like “Photo by Gavin Whitner” (the link leads to my website) would be perfect.

Best,
Gavin

Email Copy from suspected scammer, Gavin Whitner of Music Oomph / MusicOomph.com
Screen shots of the alleged backlink photo credit scam from Gavin Whitner representing Musicoomph.com
The email I received from Gavin Whitner claiming to be from Music Oomph / MusicOomph.com

Backlinks Have Value?

Briefly, most people don’t understand these backlinks or hyperlinks have value.

Every backlink increases the likelihood the linked page appears in a web search, relating to the text hyperlinked. For example, linking what are backlinks? to the Moz.com page with the corresponding topic, increases it’s ranking in search of the phrase “what are backlinks?” The more backlinks you have from credible websites, the higher your web ranking.

This potential backlink photo credit scam is an attempt to scale up valuable backlinks as fast as possible.

How This Backlink Photo Credit Scam / Attribution Scam Works

Using photos on your blog from a Google search can be illegal without acquiring the proper rights. The exception to this rule is photos acquired on royalty-free websites like Gratisography, some Flickr accounts, Wikimedia Commons, Pexels, and others. Many photos on these websites are free to use, or simply require attribution for use.

This potential backlink photo credit scam from Gavin Whitner seeks to artificially increase website ranking for Music Oomph by potentially manipulating people’s goodwill to get them to cough up backlinks. These links increase MusicOomph.com’s ranking. But why? Because he makes money via affiliate links when you buy anything on his website!

Here’s how scams like this work:

  1. Find great photos on royalty-free websites and upload the photo to your own Flickr page so it looks like you really do own it.
  2. Do a Google reverse image search to find all websites using the photos and email the website owners telling them they used the photo without proper attribution, showing them proof on your Flickr page.
  3. Let them “off the hook” easily by asking for a backlink (that you choose) and attribution. Remember to be nice!
  4. Relieved bloggers immediately link to the website requested to avoid legal trouble without knowing any better.
  5. Your site gets better ranking, more traffic, and more visitors. More visitors means more people buying stuff via affiliate links on your site.

Gavin Whitner of Music Oomph?

The biggest problem with Gavin Whitner and his alleged Music Oomph scam is simple: His Flickr page was created after the photo I used was uploaded.

If the photo really belonged to him, how did someone else get his photo before his Flickr account was created? Obviously, being the kind understanding person I am, I immediately informed him of this, but to date, he hasn’t returned my email.

Hi Gavin,

I found the photo on Pexels and it looks like it was uploaded before your Flickr account existed. Seems odd… https://www.pexels.com/photo/gold-condenser-microphone-near-laptop-computer-755416/

Obviously, I want to credit the original photographer, so can you send the original?
Thanks for your patience,
~ Justin

my email reply

After not hearing back from the alleged scammer, I tried again. “Hi Gavin, If I don’t hear back from you, I’ll report this issue to Pexels and Flickr. After all, I’m sure we both want to do the right thing. Correct?” He still hasn’t responded, but he did take some proactive action on his Flickr page. He erased the photo!

The image "Gavin" claimed he owned no longer exists!

As people look to make affiliate link cash, look for more of this style of backlink photo credit scam. Here’s another account of this SEO backlink image scam. Also, look for scam’s like this to bury information people want hidden, I call this content obfuscation.

***

The lesson here is simple. Use photos legally, and always know how and where you acquired them. Oh, and report this stuff to Google, Flickr, and relevant entities.

Hi, I’m Justin. Subscribe to my business + comms podcast. If you don’t like it, get your money back! (just kidding, it’s free)

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